I'm seriously seeking DSL in our south Salem neighborhood, now that I've tasted the faster broadband life at our cabin in Camp Sherman. Yes, Camp Sherman, a hamlet of several hundred full-time residents in central Oregon that is as beautiful as it is isolated.
Five miles from Highway 20. Ten more miles to Sisters, the nearest town of consequence. Yet one of our cabin co-owners just arranged to have Qwest DSL installed.
So now when we're in Camp Sherman I can sit down with my laptop, facing Ponderosas and the Metolius River, out in the middle of nowhere, connecting to the Internet at about twice the speed of my WildBlue satellite service here in Salem at about half the cost.
What gives? I've written before about my frustrations with Qwest. Three years ago a supervisor told me they could get DSL to our area, but they weren't going to, even though we've just five miles from the Salem city limits and two miles from the nearest existing DSL "crossbox."
Wouldn't pencil out, I was told. "Well," I thought (and still think), "isn't Qwest a public utility? Doesn't this mean that it should serve the public? Or am I expecting too much?"
Recently I asked someone in Camp Sherman how they were able to get DSL. I was told that at first the Qwest attitude was "you will never see it." Sounds familiar. However, a flurry of calls were made to the "proper politicians" and some area businesses testified to how much they needed broadband.
After that, gosh, the technical problems that supposedly made DSL an impossibility in Camp Sherman went away. That gave me hope for our neighborhood, since we're a whole lot closer to DSL civilization than Camp Sherman was.
So a few days ago I optimistically dialed the number on one of the innumerable ads we get from Qwest inviting us to sign up for DSL.
It rings. I'm asked to press "1" for English. I do. Then the line goes dead. After a while a voice tells me, "If you want to make a call, please hang up and try again." Not an auspicious start to my communications with what's supposed to be a communications company.
Second time I reach an actual human being. But not the right one. She gives me another number to call. Now I get someone who seems concerned about our plight. I tell my tale about how I have DSL in Camp Sherman, but not in south Salem. I tell him that a couple of years ago I was informed that DSL was technically feasible to install in our area. The stumbling block was cost.
Yet somehow Camp Sherman got around that roadblock. "So," I said, "I'd like to plead our case to someone in Qwest who makes DSL decisions." I could easily get dozens of neighbors, including a bunch of home-based businesses, to send cards and letters to Qwest, since there are more people living nearby than in all of Camp Sherman.
I was put on hold. The guy needed to talk to a supervisor. After five minutes or so he came back on the line. "No way will you get DSL," he said. "It'd cost a million dollars to install." He told me that I should get my neighbors to go to the Qwest web site and request to be notified when DSL is available in our area.
Which would evidently be never. Since I'd already asked members of our neighborhood association to do that back in 2004, I figured that going through the exercise again would be as useless as it was then.
My next bright idea was to phone the Salem Center retail Qwest store. I couldn't find any other Salem number for Qwest, which clearly isn't big on letting customers talk to local employees. For when Brandi returned my voice mail message, she said that she'd have to talk with DSL-knowledgeable Sam in Vancouver, Washington.
I couldn't talk with Sam directly. But she'd ask him my questions about why we didn't have DSL and let me know Sam's answers. Those, in brief, turned out to be "too far away" and "load coils."
I'm still trying to talk with Sam, because this smells much more like a brush off than a definitive technical answer. Three years ago I was able to speak with a DSL installer and he told me it'd be simple to get DSL out to us. It'd just require some equipment upgrades.
Meaning, Qwest would have to spend some money to improve service in our neighborhood. Again, not an unreasonable thing to do for a public utility.
A little Googling confirmed my cynicism about Qwest's stonewalling. I learned that "load coils" is a common phone company explanation for why DSL isn't available in an area. These thingies improve voice quality at the expense of frequencies where DSL functions.
They have to be removed before DSL will work. OK, then remove them. If I ever get to talk with Sam, I'll ask him why this can't be done.
Apparently a modern switch can replace old load coils. However, an acquaintance who works for Comcast and seems to know what he's talking about told me that many Qwest phone lines are horribly outdated. He said this is why Qwest hasn't been a takeover target. They haven't invested in equipment upgrades, so no other company wants to buy this technological dinosaur.
I don't know if that's true. And I sure don't know much about load coils. Still, my good friend Google taught me that there's something called a Smart Coil which replaces load coils. A Smart Coil lets you have fine voice quality and DSL if you live quite a ways out, like we do.
My hope is that somebody will read this post who either (1) is a Qwest employee who can tell me how to break into the company's DSL installation decision-making loop, or (2) knows someone who has this information.
I don't think Brandi is high enough up in the Qwest management food chain. She's going to keep giving me the company party line: "too far away" and "load coils."
Qwest's CEO, Richard Notebaert, looks like a nice guy. Maybe he reads blog posts about his company. If so, I just want to say that I'm waiting for DSL, Richard. Still waiting. With my Lucy Liu Qwest fantasy intact.
Give me a call. I'd love to chat with you. You have my number.